Saturday 26 December 2009
End of year catching up
I just didn't make it out to the theatre for a whole lot of films this year (outside of festivals that is), so I'm trying to catch up to a bunch of them on DVD. Yeah, there's certainly a few I wish I had seen on the big screen, but there ya have it. I did at least manage to catch both Up In The Air and Fantastic Mr. Fox at the theatre though.
A common theme running through some of my short comments below is how many of these films differed from my expectations. I think in many cases that made them more enjoyable for me, but I do sometimes wonder how much preconceived notions or even just vague ideas about a film going in can alter your feelings for it coming out. A rewatch of a film can certainly shift your opinion closer towards a more "accurate" representation, but this is how I felt about each of these movies after my first viewing (and after much online reading about them).
I was hopeful going into Judd Apatow's third directorial effort, but a bit wary considering what I had heard about the last act of the film and how it sprawled a bit at 2 and a half hours. It definitely runs long and that last act has some moments that don't work well for me, but overall I greatly enjoyed it. The mix of comedy and drama was handled quite well even if I never laughed out loud or really became emotionally attached to the characters. I suppose that isn't a ringing endorsement, but I did in fact enjoy spending time with these people. Eric Bana was absolutely great in a role that reminded me (as it did for several other people) of Russell Brand's Aldous Snow character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall - a guy you think you'll hate and will be one dimensional, but ends up being a lot of fun and not what you expected. My main complaint is where Leslie Mann's character ended up (a few spoilers ahead)...A friend mentioned that he appreciated that for once it was the female character that was scrambling at the end and telling lies instead of the man. I'm fine with switching things up, but it didn't feel appropriate for that character. At least not from what we had been shown up until that point. I suppose the story isn't really about her (and Apatow's strength doesn't seem to be with female characters), so there was still plenty to dig into.
Away We Go
Another film I approached with trepidation - even more so than Funny People. Again though, I was very pleasantly surprised. Director Sam Mendes certainly hammers some points home regarding the "bad parent" characters, but I was fine with that within the context of it being a comedy. As well, they managed to spend just the right amount of time with the annoying characters and gave you plenty of time with the two leads played by Maya Rudolph and John Krazinski. As genuinely friendly and interesting people, one wonders why they didn't have more friends, but I was simply happy to spend time with them. I was overjoyed that the film didn't feel we had to be subjected to "the big huge argument" with the inevitable reconciliation - we saw the two of them react to each other like you would expect those characters to do. I was quite taken by many of the transition scenes as well which showed the beauty of the scenery in the Southwest, the loveliness of my old city Montreal and the vibrancy of Miami.
The trend continued with Star Trek. I was having trouble getting past the smarminess of the younger Kirk when I saw the trailers, so I didn't hold out much hope. The very early scene of the rebellious Kirk as a child was pretty horrible, but the story moved forward so effortlessly from there that it ended up being a great deal of fun. I'm also a sucker for any kind of time travel plot line and I quite enjoyed the way they handled it here - particularly in simply ignoring the whole paradox angle. By the end, I was definitely onboard any plans for this to be a new franchise. I do have one question though...What the heck was up with all those lens flares throughout the movie? It was very distracting at times and reduced some scenes to what seemed to be random bursts of light.
I've been waiting to catch up with this one as it was a favourite of several respected critics and friends from TIFF 2008. I've only experienced a single Claire Denis film previously - the odd, off-putting, but strangely immersive Beau Travail (which also had that great cathartic, though completely out of sync with the rest of the film, final dance routine) - so I wasn't completely sure what to expect. What I got was a slow moving look at a father and daughter, the relationships that depend on them and how they depend on each other. The film let's you in slowly to the history of the characters, though it never really explains things explicitly. This really helped - and I'll use this word again - immerse me into the world of these people and I find that moments from the film keep slipping into my thoughts.
Observe And Report
A bizarre mix of silliness and very dark humour that didn't bowl me over, but worked a whole lot better than I expected from the initial reviews and comments. I actually would have liked it to have gone even darker in tone than it did and to have stayed consistent with it, but it may not have turned the tables on some viewers as much as it did.
A bit of a different take on the "bro-mance", um, genre as two old friends agree to work on an art project together (I promise that'll be the last time I use the term "bro-mance"). They think they've hit upon an idea that has never been done before - filming two heterosexual men having sex. The way the idea comes up in the first place (during a drunken/stoned discussion with a group of artists) is actually quite believable, though it's a bit hard to fully buy into them taking it as far as they did once they've sobered up. However, both the leads have their own reasons for trying to push on through with the project and there's an honesty to them both (as well as the wife of one of them) that I really enjoyed. I expected it to be funnier, but that's not really a knock against it as it kept me engaged for its entire length.
A nice surprise as I didn't even have this horror-thriller on my radar until a friend (thanks Kurt!) mentioned it was by director Sean Ellis (Cashback). It's a nice spin on doppelgangers and mirror reflections without getting too talky or caught up in its own ideas. It provides some solid suspense and a great overall look to it.
Definitely deserving of just about every one of the superlatives thrown at it. The initial section of Steve McQueen's debut feature film is solid and disturbing, but it's from the point that Bobby Sands and the priest have their single take 17 minute long conversation that it becomes mesmerizing. That amazing scene is followed by another single take 5 minute monologue by Sands (Michael Fassbender) that I found even more riveting. And from there, the tail end of the film covers the wasting away of Sands and it's purely cinematic as there's nary a word of dialog (a few spoken lines, but no conversation). The pictures show the horror all too well.
Why even try to discuss this when it's been done to death (both poorly and extra-ordi-narily well). Let's just say it surpassed my lowered expectations and even with a few things that didn't work (I winced every moment Eli Roth was on screen - ugh), I had a great deal of fun with it.
I just don't get the love. The situations of The Hangover are amusing and well staged (e.g. Ed Helms waking up with the chicken behind him) and the mapped out sequence of events is pretty spiffy. The actual script, however, dropped the ball almost completely and wasted what seemed to be so many opportunities to ring more humour out of a situation (aside from just having the guys recognize that they were in a situation). It felt that once they had the timeline of events, they just walked through them and forgot to give the characters anything further to say or do. I wanted to like this, but I don't get it.
In The Loop
Wondrously profane in all manner of ways. Very flawed characters everywhere you look. Cynical like crazy. And very funny. Fuckety-bye.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
One of my favourite films of the year. I love Wes Anderson's style so I'm absolutely biased up front - if he seems to bring similar framing tactics, long tracking shots, whip pans and rat-a-tat dialog to everything he does, that's OK by me because it seems to work every single damn time. Even when the whole film is stop motion animation. I can't wait to see this one again.
Up In The Air
This was pretty darn great for the initial 3/4 of its length and seemed to be growing stronger as it went along, but then it just fumbles it all at the end. I didn't mind the direction it took and where Clooney's character ended up, but didn't like how it got there and really thought it could have been handled in a more clever way. I think I need to see it again to get a better idea if the ending works with everything that preceded it, but at this point in time I just don't want to. Vera Farmiga was terrific though.
(500) Days Of Summer
Yet again, another film I entered into gingerly. Some people loved it, but there were some fairly nasty attacks on it as well. In the end, I emerged much closer to the former camp. All the storytelling tricks used in the film (the fractured storyline, the split screens, the silly Hall & Oates dance number, the cityscape turning into a pencil drawing, etc.) were used really well to reinforce Tom's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) feelings at any given time (confusion, delirious happiness, a broken heart, etc.). Zooey Deschanel is lovely and I appreciated how her character remained consistent - as a matter of fact, I wish Farmiga's character in "Up In The Air" had been given the same courtesy (though I suppose that's not what Reitman was aiming for).
Very well done and mostly seemless effects, interesting premise that gets lost a bit, terrific performance by Sharlto Copley in the lead and an odd mix of documentary style footage with scenes completely outside that context. I wish I had more to say, but I'm not overly passionate about it. Uh, I liked it well enough though.